You know that old saying, “you don’t know what you got till’ it’s gone?” That sums perfectly up what it is like to have a reliable kicker like Robbie Gould, who is borderline automatic. So much so that you begin to assume each kick that leaves his foot is going to split the uprights. It’s a luxury and one that few teams have the pleasure of enjoying.
With Gould reportedly deciding to test free agency and kick elsewhere in 2023, the 49ers now find themselves in jeopardy of becoming one of those teams who actually have to hold their breath for a moment when their field goal unit trots out onto the field.
The natural reaction to this news for many has been to pivot towards the draft, in the hopes that the 49ers can find a viable replacement who is not only younger, but substantially cheaper as well.
In theory, it’s a great route to take if you can find someone who can be a reliable player at the position for an extended period of time. The problem is that the position is historically not very deep to begin with, and only a handful of guys recently have been drafted and gone on to be a long-term solution at the position with the team that selected them on draft night.
Over the last ten seasons, there have only been 17 kickers selected in the NFL draft. Subtracting the three players who are currently on rookie deals with the team that drafted them, and you are left with 14 kickers.
Of those 14 remaining kickers that have been drafted, only one has made it to a second contract with the team that selected them on draft night. That is a shockingly bad hit rate when it comes to sustainability at the position, and something the 49ers should be mindful of when evaluating how they plan to fill the big cleats that Gould will be leaving behind.
There is some room for optimism given the recent success of a couple of the aforementioned kickers, who currently find themselves on rookie deals. Bengals kicker Evan McPherson just wrapped up his second season in the NFL, and has been wildly successful thus far, with an 83.9 percent conversion rate on 62 career field goal attempts. That includes a perfect 19-19 in the postseason.
The problem is that McPherson has been a major outlier at the position, which makes it hard to use his example to predict the future success of selecting kickers who could step in from day one and be as dependable as he has thus far.
Michigan kicker Jake Moody has generated considerable buzz leading up to the 2023 draft as a guy who could potentially follow suit with the way that McPherson transitioned into the league. For a team like the 49ers, the question now becomes what kind of capital are you willing to invest to take a dart throw on a prospect who has the potential to be your long-term fix at the position.
The mean draft position of the 17 kickers taken over the last ten seasons comes out to pick 179, which would be the second selection in the sixth round in the 2023 draft. It is worth noting that the sweet spot has been closer to the fifth round for the players in that group who have been successful in the NFL at that position.
The 49ers have three fifth round picks in the upcoming draft, and it would be beyond reasonable to take a chance on a kicker they like in this class with one of those selections. However, there should be an understanding that the odds are not great of finding someone with that pick who can offer the long-term security that Gould did over the last six seasons he spent with the 49ers.